Monday 22 January 2018

Jammet's Restaurant: French Revolution

Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Charlie Haughey was among the mob storming Trinity College on the day that the Second World War ended. And on Nassau Street, Dublin's first celebrity chef had his windows smashed by a mob. Liam Collins recalls Jammet's, once Europe's most fashionable restaurant and playground to everyone from Micheal MacLiammoir to John Lennon, and the day that it was at the centre of an international diplomatic incident

That was the year of the Munich bother. Which

Was more important? I inclined

To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin

Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind.

He said: I made the Illiad from such

A local row. Gods make their own importance

(from Epic by Patrick Kavanagh)

At 2pm on May 8, 1945, after the BBC made its announcement that Germany had finally surrendered, there was an outbreak of unbridled celebration in London, New York and Paris. In Ireland, the day's events were later reported under the heading "Baton Charge in Dublin".

It began that afternoon, when a group of about 50 students occupied the roof of Trinity College, waving Union Jacks and singing God Save the King, the French national anthem and It's a Long Way to Tipperary. Then the Tricolour, the symbol of neutral Ireland, was ceremonially burned -- and mayhem ensued.

Hearing of this defilement of the national flag, a motley crew of students from UCD (then in Earlsfort Terrace), including a young Charlie Haughey, some of the left-leaning citizenry of the local public houses and members of a now-forgotten Catholic fascist organisation called Ailtiri na hAiserighe (Architects of the Resurrection) made three failed attempts to storm the front gates of the university to get at what were described as "these brats from Trinity".

"Eventually the guards drew their batons and cleared College Green and the greater part of Dame Street. Several people were knocked down in the scramble to escape from the guards and were taken to Mercer's Hospital for treatment," reported the Irish Times the following morning.

An attempt was then made to break down the doors of the Wicklow Hotel, amid shouts of, "Give us the West Britons!" and there was general disorder in the centre of the city.

"With hundreds of reinforcements from neighbouring streets, the crowd marched down Nassau Street to Jammet's Restaurant, outside of which they sang A Soldier's Song in Irish," reported the following day's paper. "They were joined by about 60 boys of about eight years of age carrying Irish and Vatican flags. Three of the windows in Jammet's were broken by stones."

In the ordinary course of events, three broken windows might not amount to a riot -- even if the city's first celebrity chef was the target. In Dublin in 1945, it led to that most entertaining of rows, a diplomatic incident.

Jammet's Restaurant occupied a pleasant Victorian building, No 46 Nassau Street, which stretched back in a dog-leg so that the labyrinthine interior also had an entrance through No 1 & 2 Adam Court, at the bottom of Grafton Street.

It is difficult to convey, in a city now full of restaurants, the importance of Jammet's, which stood alone in austere Ireland as a bastion of fine French dining, excellent wines and unparalleled service. It was, and would remain, the place for the well-heeled locals and visiting dignitaries, well into the Sixties, when Beatle John Lennon dined there and signed the visitors' book: "The other three are saving up to come here. YEAH 3."

The restaurant's founder, Monsieur Michel Jammet, came to Dublin in the early 1890s as personal chef to Henry Roe, a whiskey magnate who produced two million barrels of spirits a year in a huge complex that ran from Thomas Street down to the Liffey. Although Roe is long forgotten, the Windmill, which made his Dublin Whiskey Distillery (DWD) the biggest spirits manufacturer in Europe, remains a Dublin landmark, dominating what is now the Guinness complex.

Roe lived in a fine townhouse, No 2 Fitzwilliam Square, and it was there that his new chef entertained business and church leaders of the day with his fine French cuisine. He devoted his leisure time and an estimated €23m -- in today's money -- of his fortune to 'Victorianising' Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin in thanksgiving for prosperity "far greater than I have desired or deserved".

After four years, Jammet went back to London, where he became personal chef to George Henry, 5th Earl Cadogan, whose eldest son was godson of the then Prince of Wales. When Cadogan was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1895, Michel returned to Dublin with him as head chef in the Vice Regal lodge.

"In 1900 Michel and Francois [his brother] bought the Burlington Restaurant and Oyster Saloons in St Andrews Street," says Mairtin Mac Con Iomaire of the School of Culinary Arts and Food Technology at the Dublin Institute of Technology. "They renamed it the Jammet Hotel & Restaurant and it became a haunt of writers, painters and politicians." In Thom's Dublin Street Directory of 1902 it is described as "a high class French restaurant".

In 1926 they moved to Nassau Street, where the centrepiece of their fine new marble and gilt dining rooms, with tables dressed in crisp white linen and the finest crystal glasses flowing with good French claret, was a mural of the four seasons by the artist Bossini.

The old man's son and successor, Louis, grew up in Dublin, attending Belvedere College. He was studying mining engineering in France when the First World War broke out. He joined the French army and was decorated with a Croix de Guerre for bravery when he was wounded in action in 1915. He returned to Dublin to recuperate. After the war he left again to resume his studies and worked in coal mining in northern France, where he met and married his wife Yvonne. On the retirement of his father in 1928, Louis came back to Dublin with his family to run the business established by his father.

The same year, Vogue magazine described Jammet's as one of Europe's finest restaurants, saying it was crowded with "gourmets and wits" and praising the grouse in particular. "The literati drank here, figures like Liam O'Flaherty and Sean O'Sullivan," says Mac Con Iomaire in a memoir of Louis. "Louis's wife Yvonne had a reputation of her own as an excellent painter and sculptor and as a member of the avant-garde painters' group The White Stag. WB Yeats had his own table in Jammet's and on March 6, 1933, he dined in the restaurant's Blue Room with fellow writers Brinsley MacNamara, James Stephens, Lennox Robinson, FR Higgins, Seamus O'Sullivan, Peadar O'Donnell, Francis Stuart, Frank O'Connor, Miss Somerville, JM Hone and Walter Starkie.

With his personality and love of the theatre and the arts, Louis turned Jammet's from a restaurant into an experience. The main entrance was on Nassau Street, but there was a marble oyster bar with high stools off Grafton Street and it was a popular spot for those who didn't want to sit down for a leisurely and expensive meal.

Louis's friends, Micheal MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards, dined there often, enjoying the atmosphere and the patronage of the founder of the Gate Theatre, Lord Longford, who invariably picked up the bill. Indeed, they enjoyed it so much that they made Louis a director of the theatre, and he even directed a play there in 1946, with what, in today's terms, had the very politically incorrect title of Ten Little Niggers.

Louis remained a staunchly patriotic Frenchman and he and his wife were central figures in the influential French Benevolent Society, which rigorously supported Charles de Gaulle and his Free French movement from neutral Ireland throughout the Second World War -- or The Emergency, as it was known here.

Whether that was the reason for breaking his windows, or whether it was just random vandalism, is not clear. But there is little doubt that Jammet's had been targeted by certain ultra-nationalist elements on VE day in May, 1945 and it was Louis's anger at being treated in this fashion, in what had become his native city, that led to the diplomatic incident that followed.

In a footnote to the weighty Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume VII, it is revealed that Louis "prevailed" on the French minister in Dublin, Monsieur Jean Riviere, to "formally complain" to the Irish Department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs) and to have the incident officially reported to the new regime in Paris.

It might be thought that, after the ravages of the Second World War, the new French government had more important things on its mind, but at the time, the incident did mark a new low in the strained relations between de Gaulle's government and the Irish Free State.

So much so that Eamon de Valera, who as taoiseach had steered Ireland through the perilous water of neutrality, and who bizarrely had formally called to the German minister Eduard Hempel to express his condolences on behalf of the Irish people on the death of Adolf Hitler, personally asked for a report on what had now become known in diplomatic circles as The Jammet Affair.

"Riots are frequent in Paris and windows of foreign establishments are frequently broken, but these events are not used to provoke diplomatic incidents," the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Joseph Walsh, wrote back rather tartly to de Valera. Walsh was protective of his position and certainly didn't want the chief poking about in diplomatic affairs, which he felt were better left to him and the mandarins of Iveagh House.

Walsh was also incensed at the behaviour of the French ambassador, then known as the French minister in Dublin. "We have not yet been able to arrive at any estimate of Riviere's qualities or the prospects of his being a valuable intermediary between this country and France. His egregious faux pas in relation to the Jammet Affair revealed an immaturity of judgment and outlook which raised considerable doubts about his future," Walsh wrote to our man in France, Sean Murphy in a letter marked "secret" on June 7, 1945.

Walsh was also very concerned that Madame Riviere had got what he called "the ascendency bug" and was inviting "the most anti-Irish and the most collaborationist elements in the ascendency class" to her soirees in the embassy's impressive residence on Ailesbury Road. Walsh may have felt snubbed because he wasn't invited and only knew about the gatherings through the social columns of the newspapers. Nevertheless, Walsh insisted it was time to tell someone in authority in France that "much harm can be done to good relations by entrusting French interests here to people who put the attractions of snobbery and flattery before their country's interests".

The Department of External Affairs was in a difficult position because Ireland was neutral during the Second World War. We were one of the few countries to recognise the Vichy regime, which was regarded in France and elsewhere as guilty of collaborating with the Nazis. It was against this strained background that Monsieur Jammet's windows were smashed.

Ultimately, the Jammet Affair proved to be a storm in a teacup, and after a bit of diplomatic arm-wrestling, the matter was shelved and de Gaulle eventually met Ambassador Sean Murphy, and welcomed him back to Paris.

But the French government followed this by awarding Louis the coveted Legion of Honour medal in 1947 for his "patriotism". It had a little to do with his broken windows but more to do with his support from Dublin for the regime in its darkest hour.

In the Fifties and Sixties, Jammet's was run by Louis and his arts-loving wife, Madame Yvonne Jammet, whose paintings still occasionally come up for sale at Dublin auction houses. Patrick Anthony, a young waiter who later became an actor, describes her as "a figure one rarely saw and only at a revered distance".

According to the journalist Henry Kelly, Anthony once asked Hilton Edwards if he would like some spinach with his dinner. The actor and theatre manager looked at him and replied, "Oh yes, please, I must keep my schoolgirl complexion." On another occasion, Hilton kept his partner MacLiammoir waiting a considerable time before arriving for lunch. There was a lovers' tiff until, a Dublin wag at the next table interjected, "I suppose you'll divorce him." To which Edwards replied, "Oh no, dear boy, we're both Catholics."

Some say the name of Jammet's can still be heard in Dublin parlance to this day by the expression of "you jammy bastard", meaning to have a great time, preferably at someone else's expense.

There was a grill room and restaurant in the building facing on to Nassau Street that would later become the Berni Inn and is now the Porterhouse, and adjoining it was the oyster bar which was entered from Adam Court, now the entrance to Lillie's Bordello. Just inside the door there was a table that became known as the Royal Box, where visiting stars from the Theatre Royal would hold court. It could be Peter Ustinov talking up a storm, or Josef Locke singing, or Hollywood guests such as Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole on the skite.

Louis Jammet, whose son Patrick had joined him in the business, had done very well, and in the early Fifties he bought Kill Abbey, a mansion with a considerable amount of land in Kill o' the Grange in south Co Dublin. The family grew vegetables in the walled gardens for the restaurant and also began exporting fresh fish by plane from the Dublin market to Paris, where good seafood was in big demand.

Inside, the restaurant was all dark wood and marble, what observers called Second Empire style. The Edwardian mirrors "gave back the reflection of that darkly ruddy face, that amused smile, those myopic but all-seeing, tolerant, humorous eyes" of Louis, said the actor MacLiammoir, who recalled him "ascending and descending" the stairs as he took care of business.

It was also part of Dublin folklore that Ho Chi Minh, who would go on to lead the Vietnamese revolution, worked as a waiter there while he was in Britain and Ireland between 1913 and 1919. He certainly worked in hotels and restaurants in London and Paris, but there is no hard evidence that he was employed in the Dublin establishment.

When John Lennon signed the visitors' book in 1964, Jammet's was in the twilight of its life. The blue leather-bound volume, not exactly tatty, but showing its age like a good wine, is filled with 165 completed pages, with the signatures of some of the most important and influential people of the 20th Century.

Earlier volumes may have been lost, but the first signature on the only remaining visitors' book of the restaurant is dated August 30, 1945, just a few months after Louis had his windows broken. It is the lordly flourish of 'Revelstoke', the lord of Lambay Island off the coast of north County Dublin, whose family owned Barings Bank in London. A few pages later is another aristocratic flourish from 'Westminster', which belonged to the duke who owned most of the fashionable areas of central London, such as Kensington, and was Britain's wealthiest nobleman.

One of the attractions of Jammet's after the war was that wealthy British patrons couldn't get a square meal in London because of rationing, but agricultural products were readily available in Ireland and the best steak, prepared by its French chefs, was certainly a good excuse for travelling over for the weekend. On May 13, 1955, Elizabeth Taylor made the first of many visits and signed the book in copperplate blue fountain pen, adding her Hollywood address.

"It is probably one of the most important visitors' books in the world," says Barry Canny of Peploe's Restaurant, who bought the book at auction a couple of years ago. Sitting in his office overlooking St Stephen's Green, he muses on the people who passed through the dining rooms. "Dublin was such a small city that everybody who came to Ireland went there. That's why I bought it; it's a serious piece of Irish cultural history."

Taoiseach John A Costelloe dined there on December 8, 1949, and the names of the Irish monied classes are mixed in with the international jet set of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties. Others who signed the visitors' book include the Aga Khan, composer Thomas Beecham, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, writer Compton McKenzie, Noel Coward, William F Taft and Randolph Churchill, a Tory MP and son of Winston. A galaxy of Hollywood's leading ladies, including Deborah Kerr, Paulette Goddard and Rita Hayworth, also dined and signed, as did Orson Welles, who of course had started his theatrical life in the Gate, and Maureen O'Hara and Barry Fitzgerald dined there to celebrate the end of the filming of The Quiet Man.

"It was the pinnacle of dining in its day," says Canny. "I think it's every restaurateur's dream to recreate the glamour of Jammet's in its heyday."

Patrick Guilbaud, another Frenchman who runs a fine dining room in Dublin, has paid homage to his countryman by hanging a painting of the interior of Jammet's, by the artist Harry Kernoff, in his establishment in Merrion Street.

Louis Jammet died in the nursing home in Dublin's Portobello on October 17, 1964, at the age of 71. Members of the diplomatic corps and his friends from Jammet's attended the funeral. He was survived by his wife Yvonne, who died in America in 1967; his son Patrick, who was by then the owner of Jammet's; his other son Michel, who was an architect in London; and by his daughters Raymonde (Mrs Kiersey) and Roisin (Mrs Hood).

"He was not only a charming and cultivated man," said MacLiammoir as his friend was laid to rest in Deans Grange Cemetery, "but a person who, as long as Dublin remains the capital of Ireland, will be remembered with affection and regard."

How soon we forget -- but at least Louis lives on as a footnote in the files of the Department of Foreign Affairs and in the affection of his family, wherever they are now. And with its unbroken existence of 67 years Jammet's can also be credited as one of Ireland's longest surviving restaurants.

The company Restaurant Jammet closed the business in Nassau Street in 1967 when dining had become more of a democratic pastime and parking on Nassau Street for the well-heeled patrons had become impossible. Patrick Jammet had plans to relocate to Ballsbridge, but he couldn't get planning permission and the great old Dublin institution disappeared, like so much else of the city, in that headlong rush for modernisation.

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